Thanks to Terry Seyden for this one!
From the Billings Gazette, here.
Guest opinion: Tester’s jobs & rec bill would benefit Montana forests
By DALE BOSWORTH
As regional forester for the Forest Service here in Montana and as chief of the Forest Service in Washington, D.C., I have watched how the heavy traffic of opinion about public land management has grown more and more contentious, until our management processes resemble traffic jams. When so much comes to a halt, our forests suffer.
More recently however, I’ve found cause for encouragement in the local community partnerships on three national forests in Montana, partnerships that laid the groundwork for Sen. Jon Tester’s Forest Jobs and Recreation Act.
Like many Montanans, I read the Forest Jobs and Recreation Act when it was first introduced and I let Sen. Jon Tester know that I supported his efforts, but I also took the time to offer a few suggestions. Then, over the next couple years, I watched as something very uncommon happened. As the suggestions came in, changes were made and the bill got better and better.
Timely land legislation
With the news that the Forest Jobs and Recreation Act may move forward in the Senate as part of the Interior appropriations bill, it’s important to recognize why this legislation is both necessary and timely.
First, there are many areas in Montana that are long overdue for being protected as wilderness. Almost half of the elk harvested in Montana come off the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest, where most of the lands in this bill are located. The elk are there because the backcountry is there. Many of these special places, from the Sapphires to the Centennials, have been in limbo for decades, and it’s time for Congress to act.
Second, Sen. Tester’s bill will enable the agency to take a larger, watershed approach to managing our forests. It gives the agency tools to help it succeed. And, it requires the use of stewardship contracting to accomplish much needed restoration work on the Beaverhead-Deerlodge and Kootenai National Forests. This tool allows the Forest Service to harvest timber and reinvest that income in other local projects like removing unusable roads so that elk can flourish, or restoring streambeds to support native fish. I strongly support the use of stewardship contracting and I believe it is the tool of the future for accomplishing needed work on national forest system land.
Unprecedented Montana partnerships
Third — and perhaps most important — this bill is based on collaborative efforts across Montana. Members of communities from Deer Lodge to Troy who have historically been at odds did the hard work of working together. And they have stuck with it. That itself is huge. We need to make sure these efforts are rewarded so that we can build even stronger partnerships in the future.
The chairman of the Senate appropriations committee said this about the Forest Jobs and Recreation Act and the work that went into it: “Decisions on how to use and protect our natural resources are never simple or clear-cut. They require commitment and fortitude. They force conversations and compromise. They make us stronger by overcoming differences and looking toward the future.”
I commend Montanans for working together on this vision. After a career of 41 years as a steward of our national forests, I’m truly encouraged by their commitment and fortitude.
Dale Bosworth of Missoula served as U.S. Forest Service Northern Region forester from 1997 to 2001 and as U.S. Forest Service chief from 2001 to 2007.
Crossposted from Left in the West here.
Draft Omnibus Bill: North Fork Flathead protections in, Tester’s mandated logging bill out
by: Matthew Koehler
Wed Dec 08, 2010 at 12:57:22 PM MST
The folks at Politico have obtained a draft copy of the “Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2010“, which is currently being circulated by Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.).
A quick search of the 327 page draft turned up good news for clean water and wildlife habitat for Montana’s North Fork of the Flathead region:
Title XXXI – North Fork Flathead River Watershed Protection (page 115-116)
“Subject to valid existing rights, the eligible Federal land is withdrawn from – 1) all forms of location, entry, and patent under the mining laws: and 2) disposition under all laws relating to mineral leasing and geothermal leasing.
Perhaps equally important is what’s missing from the draft Public Lands Omnibus Bill: Senator Tester’s “Forest Jobs and Recreation Act.” Since my views regarding the FJRA have been well-stated over the past two years here at LiTW and elsewhere, I won’t bore anyone – or annoy anyone – with too many additional thoughts on the matter, except to repeat this.
I’d encourage Wilderness supporters in Montana to consider the fact that if Senator Tester and the collaborators (Montana Wilderness Association, National Wildlife Federation, Montana Trout Unlimited and few timber mill owners) would have accepted the US Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee’s draft revisions back in May 2010, Montanans would have seen about 660,000 acres of new Wilderness designations – and some important watershed restoration provisions – included in this draft Omnibus bill.
However, what transpired was actually what we predicted all along. The bull-headed insistence from Senator Tester, MWA, NWF, Montana TU and the timber mills that any Montana Wilderness bill must include mandated logging of over a minimum of 100,000 acres cost all of us the opportunity to see over 660,000 acres of world-class wildands in Montana designated as Wilderness.
Hopefully in the next session of Congress, Senator Tester and his collaborators won’t hold Montana Wilderness protection hostage in order to get their wish for mandated logging. Then again, all indications are that Senator Tester will simply reintroduce FJRA as is.
Ironically, Senator Tester’s bill might find a warmer reception in the new Congress, where Republican members might actually like the idea of politicians by-passing science and the established open, inclusive and transparent processes which currently govern the Forest Service and other public lands agencies, in favor of mandating logging, drilling, mining and grazing on federal public lands in their own states. Stay tuned….
This is relevant to the cost of treatment issue that Derek raised below with regard to Tester’s bill.
Not exactly breaking news, but this is mid-semester, misery-index at 8.5, so I get a pass:
Excerpts from a letter recently sent to Senator Tester from the Secretary of Agriculture.
As with any new program or pilot, providing sufficient funding will be critical to allowing the Forest Service to prepare and implement mechanical treatments using stewardship contracts, timber sales contracts, and other means, Since there are many high-priority programs throughout the National Forest System, we cannot shift funding from other regions to fund these treatments. Thus, I support the inclusion of language in this proposed legislation that states it will not impact funds from other regions.
I’m curious as to what such legislative language would/could look like? Any relevant examples? Did these provisions matter?
No matter which approach is taken, I understand the legislation would establish performance standards for 70,000 acres of mechanical treatment on the Beaverhead Deerlodge National Forest and 30,000 acres on the Kootenai National Forest over the next 15 years. I believe these goals are ambitious, but sustainable and achievable.
Contrast this to the Undersecretary of Agriculture Harris Sherman’s testimony last December 2009:
S. 1470 in particular includes levels of mechanical treatment that are likely unachievable and perhaps unsustainable. The levels of mechanical treatment called for in the bill far exceed historic treatment levels on these forests, and would require an enormous shift in resources from other forests in Montana and other states to accomplish the treatment levels specified in the bill.
Of national significance, perhaps the most important question related to Tester’s bill is the precedent that would be established in legislating timber treatment mandates on national forests. So even if the Secretary finds such timber treatment mandates in Tester’s bill “sustainable and achievable,” what might those treatment mandates look like in other proposals if such legislation is now politically acceptable.
I also remain convinced that if such mandates become law, timber interests engaged in various collaboratives will use them as leverage in their bargaining positions. Why wouldn’t timber interests strike the same posture? And ask for the same things as provided for in Tester’s bill?
Back to the Secretary’s letter:
However, the holistic package of mechanical treatments, wilderness designations, and job creation, along with the collaborative approach and hard work of the stakeholders in Montana, and your work directly with the Forest Service, ensure that this legislation can serve as a model for similar efforts elsewhere.
A model to be replicated? So does this mean that the USFS will now support place-based forest legislation in principle?
If the agency supports the Senator’s place-based legislative approach to National Forest management, what does this mean for other place-based proposals in the pipeline, like Senator Wyden’s Oregon forest Bill (S. 2595)?
The former Solicitor of the Interior, John Leshy, says there exists in wilderness politics a tension between idealism and pragmatism. This tension is evident in the 1964 Wilderness Act and subsequent wilderness laws, for each is generally the product of some negotiation and compromise. Though too simplistic, this split is helpful to understanding the past, present, and possible future of wilderness politics.
At one end of the continuum are idealists who rightfully worry that too many deals are being made in order to secure wilderness areas that are too compromised and too small, among other deficiencies. Their concerns are heightened when economic development, in whatever guise, is being traded for wilderness designation. At the other end are pragmatists who rightfully point out that wilderness has always been about compromise and that concessions have to be made in order to move the agenda forward. It is a debate that has been going on for some time. Instead of Yankees v. Red Sox, think of George Nickas of Wilderness Watch versus Doug Scott of Campaign for America’s Wilderness (no pay-per-view for the latter).
Compromise has always been part and parcel of wilderness politics. This most often entailed the size of an area, the drawing of lines on maps, the releasing of lands to multiple use management, the use of alternative protected land designations, and fights over non-conforming uses and special provisions related to such things as grazing, access, and water management.
Important to point out is the significance of precedent in these historic debates. Special provisions are often replicated in wilderness laws. Once used, provisions related to such matters as water rights and buffer areas are regularly stamped onto future wilderness bills as a matter of course.
This history helps explain why some groups are so concerned about incorporating more explicit economic development provisions into wilderness legislation. These concerns were sharpened with passage of Nevada wilderness bills beginning in 2002 that controversially included various federal land sales and other economic development goodies in exchange for wilderness.
And these concerns continue to manifest in recent debates. Take, for example, the proposed Boulder-White Clouds wilderness bill—the Central Idaho Economic Development and Recreation Act. This bill includes wilderness designation, land conveyances to Idaho counties and a city, and Congressional appropriations designed to assist adjacent counties. (And at this point, all of these sweeteners have yet to win over key political representatives in Idaho or the county government-focused Tea Party in the state).
To no surprise, wilderness legislation is a product of its time and political context. So many of the wilderness battles of the past pitted traditional gladiators against one another; wilderness advocates versus the timber or mining industries for example. That was a relatively simple dichotomy.
Also relatively simple was the fact that many wilderness battles of the past were about protecting rocks and ice—alpine and subalpine environments having relatively less economic value and pre-existing uses than lower-elevation lands. Many current wilderness proposals, however, now aim to protect lower elevation landscapes—and thus landscapes with more historic uses and entrenched interests. I suspect that the issue of political compromise and wilderness will become only more pronounced in the future because of the character of the lands being debated. (The recent designation of the Owyhee Canyonlands comes to mind for example).
So What’s Changed? What is newsworthy, perhaps, is to consider how the contemporary political context is changing the wilderness debate…again. Let me offer a few examples:
First, consider the widespread interest in forest restoration. At a general level, the forest restoration agenda has the potential of rearranging traditional political alliances. Restoration has certainly shaped a large part of Senator Tester’s controversial wilderness bill (see related posts on our blog). Its proponents are seeking a balance between roadless area protection, various forest restoration goals, and a steadier and more predictable flow of timber. Restoration is changing the terms of the debate in other places as well, with various “place-based” groups drawing new lines on maps, including areas to be prioritized for wilderness, restoration, and more active forest management.
Or take motorized recreation. This constituency is important for obvious reasons, and related concessions are made in several wilderness bills. But motorized recreation has changed the wilderness debate in other ways as well. There seem to be differences of opinion as to how great of threat motorized recreation is to future wilderness designation. Some people believe that there is an urgency to designating lands as wilderness because of the growing threat of motorized recreation. Some fear that motorized interests will increasingly use roadless areas and other protected lands and in doing so will establish historic use and diminish the characteristics that make these lands suitable for wilderness designation. This perspective believes that we don’t have the time or luxury of waiting for the perfect large-scale unblemished wilderness law. Those stars are unlikely to align, they say, so we must get on with more politically feasible protection strategies.
Energy law and policy provides my last example. This sprawling field will likely touch upon all of our federal land systems, wilderness included. Take, for example, the proposed California Desert Protection Act of 2010 (click and read only if you have nothing to do for the next two days). This gargantuan bill, in a nutshell (it wouldn’t fit), would designate wilderness areas, national monuments, and other protected lands and thus take roughly 1 million acres of the Mohave desert off-limits to renewable energy development. But 119 pages later, that same bill encourages solar power production on other federal lands, including those managed by the BLM, USFS, and Defense Department. Worked into the legislation is a hodgepodge of various provisions designed to expedite renewable energy—including its permitting and transmission—in California and other Western states.
To conclude, I don’t want to overstate this trend because there are lots of old-fashioned wilderness bills and recently passed wilderness laws that are straightforward and uncomplicated. The last Omnibus Conservation Law passed in 2009 includes several examples. So there is nothing preordained about more compromise and economic development in future wilderness designation.
Nonetheless, issues like restoration, motorized recreation, and energy development, among others, will continue to change the way in which wilderness politics is debated in the future. They also bring to the fore a number of important questions.
For now, consider two. First, is wilderness law the appropriate vehicle to address related (and not-so-related) conservation issues such as energy development and forest restoration? And second, is the split between idealists and pragmatists a healthy one, a tension to be balanced? Or are these viewpoints working at cross-purposes to the disadvantage of wilderness and conservation?
Martin Nie, University of Montana
As our readers know, there has been a considerable amount of debate on this blog regarding place-based national forest legislation (e.g., the Tester and Wyden bills).
A while back I put together some tables comparing various bills and formalized agreements, to see how they approach things such as NEPA, restoration, and other matters. [Here it is, Appendix (comparison tables)].
Along with the National Forest Foundation, I also co-organized and hosted a symposium focused on the subject last June, with 80 people attending the event from across the country. (here is a link with background reading).
I’ve done some further analysis since then. The purpose of the Report is to (1) describe and analyze the recent emergence of place-based forest bills and the use of formalized agreements in the management of national forests; and (2) present alternatives to the USFS in how it can improve place-based legislation or provide alternatives to such legislation.
Here is my draft report in its entirety (USFS Cost Share Report). Below are my key findings and recommendations:
- Place-based bills and agreements are a significant trend in national forest management.
- Several place-based initiatives share a number of common characteristics and related provisions, including: (a) a frustration with the status quo, (b) the search for more certainty in forest management, (c) a focus on landscape-scale restoration and its relationship to rural communities, and (d) an emphasis on conflict resolution and the desire for more public participation in national forest management.
- Several place-based initiatives share similar frustrations with national forest management. Forest planning processes, funding and budgets, organizational culture, personnel turnover, and a small-scale approach to forest restoration are commonly identified sources of dismay.
- A defining characteristic of every place-based initiative is the search for more certainty in forest management. The goal is pursued in numerous ways, including recommended land designations, the resolution of intractable conflicts, the use of stewardship contracting, and legislated timber supply/treatment mandates.
- The need for landscape-scale restoration is a commonly identified area of agreement by these initiatives. This is most pronounced in places where historically low-severity fire regimes have turned into high-severity or mixed-severity regimes (e.g., dry-site forests of ponderosa pine). Areas in need of restoration work are often identified and prioritized, with associated sideboards such as large-tree retention and road building prohibitions included.
- Several initiatives emphasize that a viable wood products industry is necessary for the attainment and financing of various restoration goals, and that industry needs a more certain supply of timber to be competitive and/or to make long-term investments.
- Several place-based initiatives are seeking more secure and structured forms of public participation in USFS decision making, such as through the use of memorandums-of-understanding (MOUs) and additional advisory committees.
- There are politically viable alternatives to place-based forest legislation, including formalized agreements (MOUs) and long-term stewardship contracts that provide interested parties greater certainty about forest management.
- Congress and the USFS should oppose forest-specific (non-wilderness) legislation until a number of fundamental and systemic concerns are addressed, including how such laws would fit into the preexisting statutory/planning framework and how they would be financed.
- Most of the challenges faced by the selected cases are systemic, not place-based. Questions presented by such things as landscape-level restoration and NEPA, stewardship contracting, and funding, among others, deserve a national-level response—not a series of ad hoc remedies and site-specific exemptions.
- Long-term stewardship contracts can provide as much or more certainty to the timber industry than a legislated timber supply mandate. Though imperfect, stewardship contracts are preferable to the dangerous precedent of legislating timber supply on particular national forests. Congress and the USFS should consider a number of issues related to certainty upon the reauthorization of stewardship contracting authority.
- The selected place-based agreements, such as that operating on the Colville National Forest, demonstrate viable alternatives to securing greater certainty than through a legislated timber supply mandate. The Colville framework is exemplary and deserves study for possible replication or adaptation elsewhere.
- Several place-based initiatives are frustrated by forest planning processes that provide little certainty and commitments by the agency. As the USFS moves forward with its new planning regulations (to be finalized in 2011), it should consider how relevant these place-based initiatives find the zoning of national forests into basic management areas, including those areas prioritized for restoration.
- The best way for the agency to proceed with these place-based initiatives and their focus on restoration is to embrace a collaborative, competitive, and experimental approach. There are at least two exemplary processes and frameworks that should be fully supported, and possibly enlarged and replicated in the future: the Montana Forests Restoration Committee and the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Act. These preexisting frameworks offer a possible substitute for place-based legislation.
See this story on the three former FS chiefs supporting the Rocky Mountain Front Heritage Act.
“It’s sort of a special place. A wide variety of people have been working together for a long time and I think they’ve done an outstanding job,” (former Chief Dale) Bosworth said Tuesday. “But if they never see any outcome, they have to question of why they spent so much time together pounding something out.”
But despite its “uniqueness”, it seems like people could feel this way about many areas (this is a quote from a Save the Front factsheet):
Why is a Conservation Management Area needed? The 2007 Travel Plan is a good Forest Service commitment but will only be in place for 10 or 15 years. However, after that a future Forest Service supervisor or Washington, D.C. political appointee could make changes that would hurt the integrity of the land or limit local uses. For example, maybe a future Forest Supervisor will think it is a great idea to open new routes at the expense of stock travel and hiking. Reasonable side-boards on the Forest Service and the BLM will protect access for future generations of hikers, horseback riders, and mountain bike users in the same areas the forest plan allows today.
This quote reminded me of a quote from Mark Rey about the roadless issue in Martin Nie’s interview with him here
So when we came in, we looked at that history and we concluded that the crux of the problem with this issue is that it’s—on the one hand—an intensely political debate because it’s a basic resource allocation question over resources that people feel very strongly about. On the other hand, it’s a very technical debate because you’re trying to decide the fate of individual areas, putting boundaries around them that are based upon site specific data and so therefore you have to be able to amass and work with a substantial database to make good decisions.
In the case of trying to do a nationwide rule, you know you can get all the political closure you want to finally end the debate. You can have the president of the United States stand on the side of a ridge in southern Virginia and announce the outcome, but as the courts have told us, it’s hard to do justice to all the technical detail that is required to make the decision sound from the standpoint of a reviewing judge.
On the other hand, if you deal with this on a forest-by-forest basis, you can—by virtue of the fact that you have a lot less data to deal with—deal with it more intelligently.
The problem is that you can’t really get political closure to the decision because the decision is going to be made by a GS-14 or a GS-15 career civil servant and everybody knows that you can take the debate on up the food chain to see if you can get a better result. So you don’t get any real closure to the issue, both because of where it’s made and also because you don’t engage national interests to the same degree that you do in a national debate.
So we thought if we tried to find a middle road or a third path by working on a state-by-state basis, we could, on the one hand, reduce the size of the decision down to a manageable level, and on the other hand engage for the purposes of bringing better political closure to this, the one person who’s arguably elected to represent all the citizens of the state and that’s the governor, and that in a partnership with the governor we could get the right balance.
Have “lines on maps” and “what you can do on the ground effectively” decisions that have moved beyond being able to reach closure through the forest planning process? and beyond local civil servants?
Here are some quotes from Senate candidate Glassman’s website:
National Forests are far more development-friendly than other types of federal land and are vulnerable to land swaps that could ruin the scenery. The community and the U.S. Forest Service have already put in place protections within the Forest Management Plan. However, that plan is not a permanent answer. The Sedona Community Plan calls for “maintaining existing limits of the private lands and preserving the National Forest lands within the city.”
Establishing a National Scenic Area would codify plans already in place, having been developed with the Forest Service and Verde Valley community leaders at the same table. It would restrict land swaps that could leader to development further into the Red Rocks. Establishing the NSA would open up the Sedona area to more federal grants to protect this natural resource.
This idea, at least as told here, seems to fit in with the idea that forest plans are necessary, but not sufficient to protect areas from development.
It sounds like some people are afraid that by revising, they will lose important agreements that they have made through forest planning, e.g.,Amendment 12. They seem to be saying that really important agreements should not be revisited through planning. That is the same kind of thinking that led to rulemaking in Idaho and Colorado roadless- there are important land use decisions best not revisited through planning.
I see some paradox here in that we have worked for years on planning rules and plans, to say what you can and can’t do in specific areas. If many feel that “lines on maps saying what you can and cannot do” need to be codified through a more permanent process, what is left that is important and essential to do in forest planning? At the risk of sounding heretical, would it be more cost effective to do lines on maps once and codify than to revisit every 15 years?
If we did this, we could have each forest develop more of a visionary plan with learning objectives and monitoring that would not need to be in regulation.
I also wondered whether it is true that a designation will make it easier to get federal grants? If so, once word gets out, I would see a potential for a serious case of nation-wide Designation Proliferation.
People seem to be working together successfully…
Environmentalists, loggers push new wilderness deal in Northeast Washington
Seattle Times article here.
However, some are unsure if they are satisfied with the proposal, including cattle ranchers and motor-sport enthusiasts.
“They’ve done some groundbreaking stuff, but that coalition has been a teeter-totter between environmentalists and timber companies,” said resident Eric Weatherman, who is organizing backcountry vehicles users so they have greater voice in the debate. “Our opinion is it should be a triangle, not a teeter-totter, and the third piece is recreational users”
From Great Falls Tribune, here.
However, Tester warned that if the final committee bill does not contain mandated logging levels aimed at sustaining the state’s dwindling wood-products industry, then it will be “dead on arrival.”
“I have said from the beginning that I will only support a bill that contains the four carefully balanced provisions that have resulted from years of folks working together, those being timber, wilderness, recreation and restoration,” Tester said. “The committee’s bill stripped out the timber and restoration certainties in my bill. All four components are critically important to this bill.”